Saturday, March 05, 2011

The Anasazi

by Steph

So! It’s been a while since we’ve done an ‘educational’ post, but we’ve learned some things recently that you might find interesting*. While we were at the Grand Canyon, we visited an archaeological site and happened to show up just in time for a ranger talk. She showed us around a prehistoric settlement and gave us some good information about the people who lived there. You may have heard the term ‘Anasazi’ for this group of people, but it turns out that Anasazi is a Navajo word that variously translates to ‘ancient enemy’, ‘ancient alien,’ or if you want to gloss over the negative, ‘ancient ancestor.’ So, since it is best not to refer to folks you’ve never met as aliens or enemies, the convention is changing and it is now the practice to call them ‘Ancestral Puebloans'.’

Ancestral Puebloan (let’s call them ‘AP’ for short) sites can be found all over the ‘four corners’ region of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico—there were hundreds of settlements—but one of the best areas is at Mesa Verde in Western Colorado, where they built their homes into the cliffs of canyons. Here’s a basic rundown of their history.

mesa-verde21200BCE+: Ancient humans migrate into North America via a land bridge between modern-day Russia and Alaska. Over time, they push ever southward, and eventually reach what is now the American Southwest. At this stage, people are nomadic, and only make small tools that they can carry with them easily from one site to the next.

600AD-900AD: AP’s start building pit houses to live in. They dig out big underground rooms, and then construct roofs of timbers covered in mud cement. They get in and out by ladders. At this stage they are mostly hunter-gatherers, living off of local plants like juniper, pinon pine (pine nuts!), and hunting small game like jackrabbits.

900AD-1200AD: Houses are built above ground, in long stone terraces with T-shaped doorways. They still keep some underground rooms called ‘kivas’, but these are used for ceremonial and community purposes, not as housing. They also build underground storage rooms for surplus food, and make large pottery for storing water and food. People are pretty settled at this point—they couldn’t carry things like big pots very far, or store food if they were on the go. In addition to hunting and gathering, people begin cultivating beans, squash, and corn (another advantage of staying on one place). A typical settlement might house 25 people or so.


1200AD-1300AD: For a little reference point for any Nottinghammers amongst you, this is about when the Old Trip to Jerusalem was built. AP’s are enjoying a more complex civilization at this point. Their houses move even farther above ground—into the sides of cliff faces. Their architecture techniques are pretty advanced, allowing them to build four- and five-story apartments. One settlement might house 125 people or more. At the end of this period, there is evidence of some outside threat to the AP’s. They start building crow’s nest lookouts and some settlements move into more strategic positions for keeping unexpected attacks at bay.


1300AD+: No one knows exactly why, but the AP’s civilization collapses and they abandon their cliff houses. Scientists have several theories about the cause, including climate change, soil erosion, drought, de-forestation, or hostility from outsiders.The population decreases, but the people don’t disappear entirely—their descendants are the modern Zuni Native Americans.

*by the way, I may not have all the facts right…I’m sure this is a complicated subject but I’m just giving a simple overview based on what we saw at a few sites.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, very interesting bit of history, I'd never heard of the Anasazi before.
    At that time most the Trip to Jerusalem pub in Nottingham was in caves too, dug into the sandstone of Nottingham Castle Rock with just a few buildings outside. Even today much of the pub it is still in caves.
    So perhaps the Anasazi were involved here, perhaps the pub should be named the 'Trip to Colorado'? -could explain their disappearance in AD1300.